Aesthetics of Violence: Introduction and Chapter 1:

This first post includes the contents page and covers the Introduction and Chapter 1 “A Taste of Theory; A Theory of Taste”… Comments and/or questions are encouraged! (Asty) 😀

Aesthetics of Violence

An aestheticist-phenomenological analysis of the

social reproduction and amplification of violence, by

© David Lloyd Rowlands

Independent Anthropological Publications

Printed by Digital Print Australia,

Adelaide, SA


Published in South Australia by:

Independent Anthropological Publications


Digital Print Australia

135 Gilles Street


Copyright © 2006 David L Rowlands

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photographic, electro-magnetic or digital recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher.

David L Rowlands

“Aesthetics of Violence”


For tertiary students

ISBN 1 921207 05 1.

1 Violence – Cross-Cultural Studies, 1. Title





5: Introduction

7: Chapter 1: A Taste of Theory; A Theory of Taste

21: Chapter 2: Ideologically Articulated Aesthetics of Violence

23: Iroquoian Torture Rituals in the 17th Century

29: Aztec Human Sacrifice and Cosmology

34: Yanomamo Violence and Social Relations

39: Summary

40: Chapter 3: Images and Transformation

46: The Rise of the Zulu Empire

61: The Decline of the Zulu Empire

72: Chapter 4: Images and Ideologies in Totalitarian States

94: Totalitarian Ideologies

109: Conclusions

116: Postscript:

116: Critique

118: Response

122: Bibliography


124: Preface

125: Chapter 5: Towards a Paradigm for Understanding Violence as a Form of Human Self-Expression

129: Violence, Chimpanzees and ‘Theory of Mind’

132: Violence, Kingship and Chimpanzees:

The Demonic Ape and the Hero

145: Alexander and the Ancient Hellenic Cult of Heroes

152: Heroism and the Scapegoat: Iphigenia in Aulis

159: The Law of Revenge

170: The Scapegoat and the Beggar:

173: Whipping Boys: Agamemnon

174: Krypteion and Thargelion

184: Demi-gods, the ‘Son of Heaven’ and the ‘Prince of Peace’

193: Violence and the Prince of Peace

207: Killing the Messenger

218: Epilogue

222: Bibliography


“The Torture of Prometheus”

by Gustave Moreau (1868)

Cover design by Digital Print Australia

Printed and bound by Digital Print Australia

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In this dissertation I shall analyze the symbolic meanings of various forms of violence in several different cultural settings with the aim of discovering what light this can shed on the social production and amplification of violence generally.

‘Aesthetic’ is not a word which one usually associates with violent practices. This is because the word ‘aesthetic’, as it is generally used, has become overburdened with commonsense connotations which not only distort its true meaning, but also reduces its semantic content to the equivalent of ‘the Beautiful’, or worse, ‘the Pleasing’. Even in its more intellectual usages this word is not without its ambiguity and much debate is focused on it. Thus Chapter 1 is both an attempt to clarify exactly what it is that I mean when I use the word ‘aesthetic’ and to examine its utility as an analytical tool. Although I accept much of Mikel Dufrenne’s (1973) phenomenological analysis of the nature of aesthetic experience, I am forced to reject his Kantian concern for the construction of a ‘pure’ aesthetic, as such a concern is ultimately both classist and ethnocentric, thus rendering ‘purist’ aesthetics unsuitable for the purposes of sociological analysis.

For this reason, I favor Pierre Bourdieu’s conception of the aesthetic as a habitus, and based on a genuine aisthesis, rather than the askesis which paradoxically forms the basis of Dufrenne’s ‘purist’ construction.

Then, taking Bourdieu’s notion of habitus as my theoretical basis, in Chapter 2, I demonstrate how violence is aestheticized and ideologically articulated in the Iroquois, Aztec and Yanomamo cultures, and how the resulting ‘aesthetics of violence’ function as strategies of social reproduction. However, due to the largely synchronic nature of the ethnographies examined in this chapter the result is a rather static view of the societies involved.

Thus in Chapters 3 and 4, I adopt a more diachronic, or historically-oriented approach to the analysis of the emergence of Zulu culture which facilitates a more dynamic view of changes and transformations in Zulu imagery, and how these in turn effect corresponding changes in social structures and practices.

In Chapter 3, which deals largely with the emergence and decline of the Zulu empire, I focus particularly on the central role played by gradual transformations in the image of the Zulu kingship, which under Shaka was that of a god/king and based on terroristic despotism. As a result of Shaka’s strategic use of violence and terror, the omnipotence of the king, which in other African societies was merely theoretical, was experienced by the Zulus as actual. Yet the practices and structures of terroristic despotism changed significantly during the course of Zulu history, and my demonstration of how these changes were facilitated, if not initiated by changes in the image of the kingship is central to my analysis.

In later Zulu history, the social and economic conditions which had not only permitted, but actually encouraged Shaka’s terroristic despotism had been transformed, largely through the influence of the Boers and the British and as a result had also transformed the image and hence the nature of the Zulu kingship into what was now virtually a limited monarchy. But, though the governors of Natal could not have been unaware of these changes, they ignored them when they reported to the British Government, thus deliberately conveying the impression that the terroristic practices of Shaka still ruled in Zululand.

At the same time they initiated a program of symbolic deconstruction of the Zulu kingship which prepared the ground for its later empirical deconstruction under the Wolesley Plan of multiple-partition. This plan was the model for what was later to become known as ‘modern tribalism’ – an integral feature of the apartheid system.

Chapter 4 is an analysis of some of the central features of the South African system of apartheid, under which the Zulus, among many other South African tribes, were subjugated. In this chapter I also compare similarities and differences between the ideologies and social structures of the apartheid system, Shaka’s terroristic despotism, and Nazi Germany in order to discover what insights these cultures and their ideologies might reveal about the social reproduction and amplification of violence.

Aesthetics of Violence

By David Lloyd Rowlands

Dedicated to my son, David

Chapter 1: A Taste of Theory, a Theory of Taste

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,

Get it out with Optrex” (Spike Milligan)

Before any attempt at analyzing the social production and amplification, via the process of aestheticization, of violence, it is first necessary to define exactly what is meant by the word ‘aesthetic’. In fact this is doubly important; firstly because the word ‘aesthetic’ is not without ambiguity, but is usually beset on all sides by subjective value judgments, as many aesthetes artists and philosophers have discovered; and secondly because without a clear definition of what is meant by ‘aesthetic’ it would be difficult, not to say impossible, to show that violence has anything about it which can, properly speaking, be called ‘aesthetic’ at all. This latter is particularly true if one insists on regarding as aesthetic only that which is beautiful or pleasant.

About beauty, in an exposition of the aestheticist philosophy of CJ Ducasse, PH Hare and EH Madden have this to say:

“For Ducasse…. the activity of art is not aimed at the creation of beauty. There is no essential connection between beauty and art; each can exist without the other” (Hare and Madden, 1975: 122).

Mikel Dufrenne, considering the possibility of beauty as the quid proprium of aesthetic objects, would certainly concur, and even though he chooses ‘unanimously accepted works of art’ as the most reliable guide to the aesthetic object and thus to the aesthetic experience, he nevertheless avoids invoking the concept of the beautiful, which, due to the relativism and subjectivism it involves, becomes meaningless and therefore useless, or possibly even dangerous.

“Even if we define the beautiful as the specific aesthetic quality and give this quality an axiological accent, as is often done, we do not escape the relativism which we hoped to avoid. Subjectivism besets every value judgment, including judgments of taste pronounced on beauty, with the result that the sought-for objective criterion suddenly appears unreliable.” (Dufrenne, 1973: Intro: lviii).

Clearly then, beauty in and of itself cannot be used as a standard criterion for judging whether or not an object (or, as I shall argue, an experience) may be considered ‘aesthetic’. Instead of beauty, Dufrenne chooses ‘authenticity’ or ‘truth’ as the criterion by which an aesthetic object may be judged. Thus even the grotesque, the tragic and the sinister may be regarded as ‘aesthetic’, as long as they are ’true’. Thus:

“…the beautiful designates the truth of the aesthetic object when this is immediately sensuous and recognized, when the object imperiously announces the ontic perfection it enjoys. The beautiful is the true made visible; it sanctions what is felicitous [hereux] before reflection does.” (Dufrenne, 1973: Intro: lxi).

This implies that only that which is true is truly beautiful, and this can be said equally of the grotesque, the tragic, the sinister, or even of the horrific, as works by Shakespeare, Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe testify, as long as they bear witness to the ‘truth’ of an external reality. Perhaps, however, we ought to modify the above statement in order to save confusion and say that only that which is true (i.e. which has an intimate relationship with the real, or actual) can be properly called ‘aesthetic’.

Although both of these authors deal largely, though not exclusively, with aesthetic experience as related to ‘works of art’, they both recognize that aesthetic experience is not confined to this area alone; that natural objects and phenomena can also be objects of aesthetic contemplation (Hare and Madden, 1975: 131). Thus anything, and by extrapolation any experience, in either the physical or the conceptual universe has the potential to be considered as an aesthetic object.

Therefore although the universe of aesthetic objects extends infinitely beyond the world of ‘works of art’, because the relationship between the subject (whether artist or audience), and the aesthetic object is identical in either case, as Dufrenne puts it,

“…everything we shall say about the work of art will hold true for the aesthetic object…” (Dufrenne, 1973: Intro: lxvi).

For Ducasse, rather than an activity aimed at the creation of beauty, art is an activity aimed at objective self-expression, although as I have already mentioned it is important to realise that this does not necessarily imply successful communication of whatever a-priori feelings were intended. To be considered as an ‘aesthetic’ object (or experience) what is particularly important is that the activity must be consciously and critically controlled in order to distinguish it from other expressive activities, such as yawning, for example.

“The artist’s aim is to give adequate embodiment in words, lines, colors, or what-not, to some particular and probably nameless feeling or emotion that possessed him…. To say that expression of feeling is objective is to say that something has been created such that in contemplation that thing yields back the feeling of which it was the attempted expression.” (Hare and Madden, 1975: 123).

This mirroring-back of feeling, though not necessarily an end in itself, is proof of a successful attempt at objective self-expression. It is usually the result of trial and error, and requires critical judgment as to whether or not it truly mirrors back the feeling of which it was the attempted expression. The aesthetic experience is thus the clarification, through objectification in the work of art, of the probably nameless feeling with which the artist started; his inspiration.

The success of a work of art can only be determined when such clarification is achieved without any change in the qualitative identity of the original feeling. Thus it is in terms of the degree to which these ‘probably nameless feelings’ remain unchanged when viewed by an audience other than the artist that the ‘truth’ or ‘authenticity’ of the object is to be judged. The feelings or impulses, the ‘inspirations’ which the artist has, which compel him to create and which, if the creation is successful, manifests itself in the object, is what Dufrenne refers to as the ‘affective a-priori’, and these affective a-priori are what enable the work of art to open up the world of the artist to the spectator. Thus:

“…certain artists seem to have been summoned and impelled by a truth which does not belong to them and of which they are the witnesses and even the martyrs. Again it is undeniable that this truth was their truth. Only if Racine himself was true can there be a truth of the Racinian world. But it was also necessary that Racine be true because of a Racinian truth which needed Racine. Once again, the creative act should not mislead us. Though the creative act induces us to accord a primacy to the subject, we should also grant an inverse primacy to the object. The artist himself authorizes the latter move when he appeals to inspiration. Acted on, as well as acting, the artist exists in the service of a world which seeks to be incarnated in the work through his agency.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 454).

This then, explains the nature of Dufrenne’s ‘affective a-priori’. Essentially they may be described as inherent qualities of existential or ‘objective’ reality which have a strong potential for influencing human emotions, which exist before the coming-into-being of the work of art, or any object of aesthetic contemplation. We may consider those forces – for a truth which demands expression is a force – as in some way ‘calling’ to the artist. In a certain sense, one might even say that art ‘demands’ to be born. The same truth of these affective qualities is also the truth to which the spectator or audience bears witness.

“Feeling is as deeply embedded in the object as it is in the subject, and the spectator experiences feeling because the affective quality belongs to the object.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 455).

In other words, whether the aesthetic object is as concrete as a Rodin statue or as abstract as a musical nuance or a philosophical subtlety, the existence of these affective a-priori and their affective relationship to individuals (both artist and spectators) is strong evidence of a direct link or bond between both the artist and his work, or aesthetic objects of whatever kind and their audience. The immediacy of this bond, which Dufrenne even refers to in terms of a ‘kinship’ (1973: 470), is further demonstrated by his proof that not only are there a-priori feelings, which call to the artist to make themselves manifest in the aesthetic object, but also there must also be a preliminary or a-priori knowledge of that feeling in both the artist and his audience, who recognize it in his work. It is for this reason that Dufrenne says that the relationship of the artist to his work, expressed in terms of this affective bond, is essentially the same as the relationship of the spectator to the aesthetic object, as the bond is one of ‘feeling’ – an affective quality – which is a-priori to all three, but which identifies all three as being united in terms of that ‘feeling’; indeed as having a ‘kinship’ with each other, and also with ‘The Real’.

“Only if there is a kinship between man and the real can there be anything like man’s being in the world, for man can enter into relations with the real – relations which are established by presence, representation, and feeling – only on the condition that the real’s otherness is not radical and that the various a-priori are common to man and world and thereby gain an ontological dignity.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 462).

Perhaps here I might suggest that the aesthetic experience is also analogous to what Fernandez (1986: 188-211) calls the ‘experience of returning to the whole’. Insofar as the affective qualities expressed in the affective a-priori are all fundamental human qualities, or nuances thereof, they therefore not only remind us of the kinship of all humanity with the reality which surrounds it, but actually links them and ‘The Real’ in a genuine kinship of feeling. Or, if the aesthetic experience is of a natural object or event rather than a work of art, those same ‘aesthetic a-priori‘ may even remind us of the oneness of the cosmos and of humanity as being not separated from that cosmos, but an integral and harmonious part of it, and having therefore also a kinship with the rest of the universe, i.e. with the ‘real’.

It is also important to note that these affective qualities are subsumed under ‘affective categories’, of which the various individual affective a-priori qualities represent particular nuances. Thus these affective categories represent that a-priori or preliminary knowledge which alone enables us to understand particular or individual affective qualities. The former is related to the latter as the general is to the particular.

“To be equipped with our own experience is not enough to enable us to be sensitive and responsive to a work of art. We must also be equipped with the kind of knowledge which allows us to recognize what we feel before we can understand what we have felt. How could I express a particular affective quality without resorting to an affective category of which I have some sort of preliminary knowledge?” (Dufrenne, 1973: 470).

It is not that affective qualities are related to affective categories as species to genus, but rather that affective categories act as a kind of light in which to view particular and unique examples of the qualities they subsume. Thus:

“… that singular nuance which, though it is never completely explicit, I experience when I realize that the bitter fervor of El Greco is not the same as the serene fervor of Raphael, or that the shimmering purity of Faure’s quartets differs from the violent and magnificent purity of Franck’s F Minor Quintet. But before I can experience the singularity of such a nuance, I must know fervor and purity as affective categories.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 470).

However, the knowledge thus constituted by affective categories cannot dispense with reflection on feeling, firstly because such knowledge is immanent in, and therefore adds nothing to feeling, and secondly because such knowledge is general and is therefore not entirely adequate to feeling, which receives a singular expression from a singular object. Thus:

“The category of the tragic never quite coincides with the singular nuance of the tragic revealed in Phedre or Rembrant’s ‘Ecce Homo’, or Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. The affective category clarifies the feeling I experience before the work and renders that feeling intelligible, but there is more to the feeling than is contained in the category.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 471-472).

If the existence of these affective categories suggests that they may be classified and placed within a taxonomy, it is nevertheless important to realize, as Dufrenne points out, (1973: footnote 6: 467-468), that such a taxonomy could never be other than partial and incomplete. He indicates that the most precise and coherent attempt at constructing such a taxonomy is the table of categories constructed by Etienne Souriau, who was himself aware of the impossibility of its completion and was forced to make use of the abbreviation ‘etc.’ when referring to aesthetic categories.

By now it should be clear that these affective a-priori, subsumed under affective categories which are themselves a-priori, are the very essence of aesthetic experience, opening up as they do, new ways of perceiving man’s relationship to the real through feeling, manifested in the work of art. It should also be clear that the feeling or affective quality expressed in the work of art exists at a moment prior to the work and emerges out of the relationship of the artist to the real. Thus:

“The real is always intended by the feeling which delivers its affective essence.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 521).

However, this is not to say that the truth of a work of art consists merely in reproducing the real, but rather in expressing the truth of the real in terms of affective quality (Dufrenne, 1973: 522). Therefore if we consider the genesis of particular works it is immediately apparent that they are the work of people who are themselves involved with the real and the authenticity of the work can be measured by the seriousness of that involvement.

“Although the primary concern of the artist is to create his work, in doing so he nonetheless continues to be himself in his unique situation in the midst of historical reality. It is therefore inevitable that some aspect of this encompassing reality is reflected in his work, which then gives evidence not only of his personality, but also of the nature of the real world in which he has lived, and this remains true even when the work does not specifically propose to represent the reality with which its creation is contemporaneous. It nevertheless bears witness to this reality.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 544).

And again,

“By expressing himself and being true to his existential a-priori, he cannot help but express his surrounding reality – a reality which bears him along and touches him on every side and to which his activity is a constant response.” (Dufrenne, 1973: 544).

It is because of this inevitable (and inalienable) historicity of both the artist and his work that it becomes necessary to consider the aesthetic as a habitus (P Bourdieu, 1972). This approach is in fact doubly warranted because of the affective nature of both individual a-priori and the categories under which they are subsumed and indeed it is even suggested by Dufrenne:

“There is nothing human which is foreign to us. The form of the human lies within us and is intimately known by us. Every sign of the human revives within us an intimate knowledge, which precedes all experience and by which experience is clarified. But this is not a completely finished and elaborated sort of knowledge. It is, rather, a sort of familiarity in the sense of a way of being. Because it belongs to the being of the subject, we can say that this cognitive a-priori, which clarifies for us the existential a-priori manifested by the aesthetic object, is itself existential. But suffice it to say that we are speaking here of a primordial knowing [savoir primitif] which exists within us as a habitus controlling and orienting our articulated knowledge [savoir formule].” (1973, 484-485).

And again:

“…the affective category is like an instrument which we use without being fully aware of how it works and in such a way that it is never completely exhausted by reflection. Consequently, the a-priori is not inside me like an essence which has been deposited in my understanding and can be extracted as from a pigeonhole. Rather, the a-priori is within me like a habitus, that is, like an a-priori sense of taste. Like an affective category, taste possesses the character of a confused and yet evident knowledge [connaissance] which anticipates and prepares the way for experience.” (1973: 489).

However, although Dufrenne indicates that the affective a-priori which comprise the essence of aesthetic experience function as an habitus, he does not himself follow through with this line of reasoning from a sociological perspective but concerns himself solely with his own project, which is an exposition of the phenomenology of aesthetic experience. Perhaps this is because he anticipates the inevitable relativism and subjectivism which the notion of habitus entails and for the purposes of his own project, which is the construction of a paradigm of and for aesthetic experience – and also due to his Kantian concern with the construction of a ‘pure aesthetic’, he needs to maintain a methodological objectivism which would seem to preclude this possibility.

However, although such a methodological objectivism may have been necessary for the purposes of Dufrenne’s project and indeed is a necessary moment in all research, as Bourdieu indicates, it demands its own supersession because of the break with experience and the construction of objective relations which it accomplishes:

“In order to escape the realism of the structure, which hypostatizes systems of objective relations by converting them into totalities already constituted outside individual history and group history, it is necessary to pass from the opus operatum to the modus operandi, from the statistical regularity or algebraic structure to the principle of production of this observed order, and to construct the theory of practice, or, more precisely, the theory of the mode of generation of practices, which is the precondition for establishing an experimental science of the dialectic of the internalization of externality and the externalization of internality, or, more simply, of incorporation and objectification” (Bourdieu, 1972: 72, original emphasis).

Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’ is the result of this ‘science of incorporation and objectification’. It also forms the basis for his theory of the generation of practices. Habitus are the product/producers of the constitutive structures of particular types of environment, for example the material conditions of existence characteristic of a class condition. Bourdieu defines habitus as:

“… systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles of the generation and structuring of practices and representations which can be objectively ‘regulated’ and ‘regular’ without in any way being the product of obedience to rules, objectively adapted to their goals without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary to attain them and, being all this, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the orchestrating action of a conductor.” (1972: 72).

Habitus thus have the tendency to reproduce the objective structures of which they are themselves the product and are thus determined by the past conditions which produced the principle of their production, rather than by anticipation of the future. (Bourdieu, 1972; 72).

In a later book, “Distinction” (1984), Bourdieu demonstrates that taste, although variable according to the habitus of class position and social trajectory, among others, is indivisible. He strongly criticizes the Kantian concern with finding a ‘pure’ aesthetic, with its implicit divisibility into ‘high’ and ‘low’, or ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ aesthetics. Such theories, he says, are founded on a refusal of ‘impure’ taste and of aisthesis (sensation), the simple, primitive form of pleasure reduced to a pleasure of the senses and a surrender to immediate sensation, that which Kant called ‘the taste of the tongue, the palate and the throat’. Thus ‘pure’ taste is based on the refusal of the facile, anything which achieves an immediate effect and is easily decoded, culturally undemanding, and therefore this refusal of the shallow or cheap forms the basis for a sense of distinction which aims not only at separating the ‘pure’ aesthetic from the ‘impure’, but also and simultaneously, creating a distanciation between the social classes which variously indulge in them. (Bourdieu, 1984: 486)

Because such ‘impure’ aesthetics are thus equated with the gratification of the senses and emotions they are perceived as being common to the ‘lower classes’) where ‘pure’ aesthetics aim at the cultivation of the mind; the opposition is thus one of the ‘cultured’ or ‘human’ mind as opposed to the ‘natural’ or ‘animalistic’ body. The deferred pleasure of intellectual refinement is opposed to the immediate enjoyment of physical gratification. Thus ‘pleasure’ is separated from ‘enjoyment’ in the ‘pure’ aesthetic experience. Pure taste, based ironically on disgust (at the facile), is the purification, sublimation and denial of aisthesis, and therefore paradoxically consists in a strict asceticism or askesis, a trained, sustained tension which is the very opposite of primary, primitive aisthesis. (Bourdieu, 1984: 490)

The true significance of this opposition, which emerges directly from the construction of the very notion of a ‘pure’ aesthetic, is clearly stated by Bourdieu:

“What is at stake in aesthetic discourse, and in the attempted imposition of a definition of the genuinely human, is nothing less than the monopoly of humanity.” (1984: 491, original emphasis).

Thus the ‘sublimity’ of aesthetic experience, which is inherent in the construction of a ‘pure’ aesthetic is rooted in classism and an implicit denial of the humanity of the lower orders and is thus predisposed to fulfill a function of social legitimation. (Bourdieu, 1984: 491). However, this means that the construction of a ‘pure’ aesthetic is based on a tautology; the supposed ‘disinterestedness of gaze’ which is the surest sign of the supposed moral and ethical superiority of the aesthete, is ultimately disavowed by the interests which are served by art’s role in the legitimation of prevailing social relationships of domination and exploitation, due to the benefits which accrue to the aesthete as a member of an elite social stratum in which aestheticism is seen as a badge of membership (Bourdieu, 1984: 484-488). Thus even the so-called ‘pure’ aesthetic experience cannot ever be truly disinterested. So at this level aesthetic experience becomes indivisible through the universality of interestedness, rather than divisible through the illusory disinterestedness of the mythical ‘pure gaze’. 488).

The ‘moral and ethical superiority’ of the aesthete is itself illusory and the pretense to the contrary not only fundamentally classist, but hypocritical. However, this should not be taken to imply any denial of the existence of these two distinct forms of aesthetic experience, which Bourdieu calls ‘the taste of sense’ and ‘the taste of reflection’(1984: 488).

But it is essential to understand that neither an ethos nor an aesthetic which is comprised of self-reinforcing and self-regulating values can be given any special analytic privilege, since the social functions they serve are fundamentally partisan in nature and serve ultimately to maintain pre-existing class structures.

That these two forms of aesthetic experience reflect, through objective self-expression, two different social positions, one automatically assumed to be ‘high’ and the other one ‘low’, therefore does not necessarily mean that the empirical social hierarchy reflected in these two forms of aesthetic experience should still be operable at either the social, moral, ethical or aesthetic level. These two forms of aesthetic experience simply represent two existentially equivalent, though formally and ontologically distinct possibilities of aesthetic experience, which can now be regarded as a synthesis of both of them, and the degree and the manner in which an individual will indulge in either or both of these modes of objective self-expression will apparently depend on habitus such as social position and trajectory, at least in socially stratified or ‘hierarchical’ societies…

The relationship between these two forms of aesthetic experience is, however, essentially one of mutual refusal. The ‘pure’ aesthetic of the bourgeois intelligentsia refuses the sensuality of aisthesis as barbarous or animalistic, and so not truly human due to its focus on the body, while the lower classes – relegated along with their aesthetic mode of self-expression to the ‘sub-humanity’ of barbarism – refuse that which they are in any case denied both by virtue of their social position and the cryptography of the meanings of ‘high’ art, thus as Bourdieu remarks, making a virtue of necessity.

Such ‘virtue’ is expressed in aphorisms such as ‘knowing one’s place’, or ‘that’s not for the likes of us’ (Bourdieu, 1984: 499). The ontological significance of this relationship of mutual refusal is that it perpetuates the dialectical interaction between the different class habitus and the objective social structures and relationships which comprise the generative structures of this class of group practices, and as a habitus, is itself reproduced by its own product and simultaneously with the structuring of social practices and class structures, thus perpetuating the perceived distinction between the social classes and therefore the social classes themselves.


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